DeKalb Schools -Time To Pull The Band-Aid

January 17, 2013 8:54 am

by Mike Hassinger · 15 comments

There are two ways to remove a band-aid; you can pull it off slowly, bit by tortuous bit, which prolongs the agony, or you can yank it off with one sudden pull, which may hurt a bit more, but only for a second. DeKalb County Schools is in desperate need of a leader with the courage to yank a band-aid, and fast. The State Board of Education will hold a hearing on the DeKalb School Board today, and afterwards make a recommendation to the Governor about what to do next with the 9 clowns in one small car that is the DeKalb County Board of Education. Pay close attention to this meeting and the subsequent actions by the State BOE and the Governor, because what’s at stake it’s not just DeKalb County’s future, or the future of ~100,000 DeKalb school kids. What’s at stake is Georgia’s ability to deal with systemic problems in its educational system, and a real measure of Governor Deal’s leadership. 

It may seem unfair to to charge the Governor with responsibility for DeKalb County’s educational debacle -he didn’t cause any of them. In fact, most of the worst ones predate his election as Governor. But as Georgia’s Governor, Nathan Deal is the only person with sufficient authority to take decisive action and begin the process of fixing what’s broken with the 3rd largest school system in the state. And what’s broken, exactly? The former superintendent is currently facing trial on conspiracy charges, along with the former construction program manager; the system is also paying legal fees to defend him, but not her. The system has also been paying millions in legal fees in a high-stakes gamble to get construction giant Heery International to settle a lawsuit related to the criminal suit, but DeKalb’s Judge Clarence Seeliger has refused to set a trial date in that case for nearly half a decade. The District Attorney currently has two inquiries into possible criminal activities by school administrators. Principals have used school funds to buy books they had written. A deadbeat school board member sees nothing wrong with selling $20,000 worth of pizza from his restaurant to the school system he’s supposed to be responsible for. A former school board member threatened to “slug” a reporter asking questions about how her relatives got jobs with the school system. And how can we forget the shameful public episode called “redistricting” from last year? 

Accreditation agency SACS warned DeKalb 2 years ago (pdf) to straighten up, but they didn’t. SACS put them on accreditation probation last month, and issued a damning report about the utter dysfunctionality of Board, which cited such things as millions of dollars borrowed for textbooks that no one can find, using some of those borrowed millions to pay legal fees instead of buying textbooks and direct meddling by not only incumbent board members but by Board members-elect, who had not even been sworn in yet! Just yesterday (yesterday!) Ty Tagami reported that a consultant named Ralph Taylor, who had been hired to “analyze [DeKalb Schools'] alternative education program copied more than a third of his report from scholarly publications posted on the Internet…” After completing his plagiarism, Mr. Taylor was hired as  “Associate Superintendent for Support Services” at $117,461 per year. If you think his job might possibly be at risk because he got it through plagiarism, you’re wrong. “School Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson said Taylor’s job is safe. “The infraction pertains to his work as a consultant, not as an employee…”  Again, this was just yesterday, and, sadly, I am not making this up.

Maureen Downey posed the question in her “Get Schooled” blog at the AJC yesterday: “What would you the tell the State Board [of Education]… about the performance of the DeKalb school board?” The letter that prompted Ms. Downey, and the comments that follow, are worth reading -most call for removal of all 9 Board members. So does a petition started by a parent. And so does an identical petition, started by a student at DeKalb’s Lakeside High School. (A student!)

The list of “what’s broken” is virtually endless, and pointless, because the taxpaying public, and the parents of DeKalb students (and I am a member of both groups) have lost all faith and trust in the system. DeKalb now serves only as a cautionary tale for the rest of Georgia, because everything that could go wrong with our State’s current system of public, K-12 education has gone wrong in DeKalb. Every. Single. Thing. And the time to fix it is now. 

DeKalb Schools are a nearly a billion dollars worth of cronyism, nepotism, dysfunction and failure. And the DeKalb School System, to paraphrase Matthew 7:5, are a plank in Georgia’s eye. Other problems -funding mechanisms, budget cuts, teacher pay, etc.- are just bits of dust. Will the governor remove the board, and begin the process of fixing the most visible failure in Georgia? 

Because if he can’t be trusted to fix the most obvious problem, how can we trust him on anything else?

DeKalb Wonkette January 17, 2013 at 9:09 am

DeKalb School Board needs to go. NOTHING would be better than this BOD.

Ghost of William F Buckley January 17, 2013 at 9:58 am

1. Partial Board-ectomy, keep Speaks, Jester. Clayton did this, I seem to recall.
2. Paradigm changes:

– Re-think SACs as the source for accreditation. SACs criticisms include the fact that they have not addressed, much less addressed the basic issues of nepotism, fraud, waste, and abuse;
– Portfolio District or anything smaller than the $1Billion mega-strosity that DeKalb currently administers. It is unreasonable to expect a new Board will be much better at running this ‘too-large-to-succeed’ District.

@Mike Dig a little bit and find out how much $$$ DeKalb is currently spending on defending public officials as a % of budget, per capita. Compare to other Georgia counties. Let’s get the General Assembly/Governor to recommend something other than a CEO form of government.

tain’t a’workin’

PSA:

EMAIL the State Board of Education members YOUR thoughts using your own words. The State Board members’ email addresses are listed below.
Simply copy and paste all of these into the “To:” field of your email. It’s OK just to send one email to all of them at the same time.

[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
2. ATTEND the hearing on January 17 at 1:00 p.m.

There will be no opportunity for public comment. However, your presence is important.

The hearing will be held in the State BOE Boardroom at:

Georgia Department of Education
2070 Twin Towers East, 205 Jesse Hill Jr Drive
Atlanta GA 30334

3. FORWARD this email to every property owner, school parent, blog writer, neighborhood list, and media person you know in DeKalb County.

Chris Huttman January 17, 2013 at 11:44 am

I don’t know how, with a straight face, you can call for a board cleaning and say keep some of the people who’ve been on there. There are three newly elected people who ran against the dysfunction of the current board – two of them defeated incumbents. Seems like they should be reappointed. Everyone else should go. Sometimes even the “good” people who were around for the dysfunctional days have too much baggage to meaningfully contribute to the fix.

Ghost of William F Buckley January 17, 2013 at 12:03 pm

I can make that statement with a dead pan delivery, poker straight face, my Democratic neighbor… Why go through the re-election process, cost and expense. The process is flawed, and SACs (the process grader) is unable/unwilling to resolve:

““If the governor removes this board, who do you think is going to get re-elected? … People who represent the same thought processes,” said Don McChesney, a former North DeKalb school board member who was defeated for re-election last year.”” Courtesy AJC
http://www.ajc.com/news/news/dekalb-school-board-tries-to-hang-on-to-jobs/nTy33/

The Dekalb Board is wrong and SACs is wrong.

Not whose on it, though Jester and Speaks usually represent new, pragmatic, financially sound thinking – the idea that a citizen elect committee, now or in the future can manage a $780Million to $1Billion dollar budget is fundamentally flawed.

The answer seems to be make Districts smaller, into more manageable local units: Change the Game, Chris. Read this, then comment http://whatsupwiththat.nancyjester.com/

Atlanta suffers, Georgia suffers, as DeKalb lays a crap on everyone.

Mike Hassinger January 17, 2013 at 12:12 pm

They ran knowing the existing law, and took office under the existing law, and are subject to the existing law. And at least one of those “new” board members was cited as being a meddling busybody before he was even sworn in. They should all go. They can all re-apply for their positions, and explain themselves to the governor.

Ghost of William F Buckley January 17, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Interesting….

A clean sweep denies any arguments that keeping one member over another has untoward motivations.

I am still in favor of a partial sweep, get rid of SACs, and something like Texas-style Portfolio Districts.

Just saying….

Ghost of William F Buckley January 17, 2013 at 11:03 am

Kudu’s to Rep. Scott Holcomb for getting the BOE to change their minds and webcast today’s DeKalb County School Board hearing live. What were they thinking? Pravda would have been proud….

Rep. Holcomb provides a link via his web stie, send him some page hits: <3 http://votescottholcomb.com/home/

Curiously, why only Rep. Holcomb and not the ENTIRE DeKalb Delegation? Or anyone else?

elfiii January 17, 2013 at 12:22 pm

In the 60’s and 70’s the Dekalb Co. school system was number 1 in the nation. Jim Cherry must be spinning so fast in his grave the coffin has spontaneously combusted and burnt to a crisp.

Thank God our children graduated before the whole wretched mess rolled off the cliff. It’s time for the bulldozers to move in and do some site grading for whatever is next to come. Surely it will be better? How could it get worse?

Howard Roark January 17, 2013 at 12:36 pm

In the 1980’s, when I entered the field of education Dekalb and Clayton counties were the place that new teachers wanted to move to to work. My how times change. Gwinett is next to follow in their footsteps if not careful.

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 18, 2013 at 5:35 am

Mr. Roark, unfortunately, the chances are increasing that Gwinnett will eventually follow in the footsteps of Dekalb and Clayton counties. While most high school clusters in Gwinnett continue to go strong and the Gwinnett schoolboard seems relatively much more stable than the schoolboards of other metro districts, the signs of decline are increasingly evident in the Shiloh, Berkmar, Central Gwinnett and (especially) Meadowcreek clusters where per-capita incomes are amongst the lowest in the county.

Cobb County, where the schoolboard has been loopy at times over the past decade or so, is another rapidly-urbanizing suburban school district where many clusters are still going very-strong (particularly in East Cobb) and the signs of decline are increasingly evident around others, particularly around the Pebblebrook, South Cobb, Osborne and Campbell high school clusters.

Despite the challenges of an increasingly urban population, the Marietta City Schools district has seemingly managed to hold on and keep going strong, presumably because of the established proud traditions and history of the City of Marietta (“Old Marietta” as it is called by long-time residents), the continued socioeconomic diversity (the continued presence of high-income households) and smaller size and land area of the district, which includes only one high school cluster.

Needless to say, the challenges of a school district that serves an increasingly urban county of 700,000 or 800,000+ residents (many more lower-income single-parent and non-English speaking households, many more transient families) are vastly different than the challenges of a school district that serves a largely-exurban or suburban county of 400,000 or less that may be filled largely with stable higher-income two-parent and English-speaking households.

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 18, 2013 at 5:56 am

elfiii, January 17, 2013 at 12:22 pm-

What should probably be next to come is breaking down the large, bloated, inefficient, overly bureaucratic and overly corrupt mess that Dekalb County Schools has become into smaller school districts so that the damage is only confined to certain areas and is not countywide.

Chamblee is already a cluster that is served by a public charter high school that, despite the urban challenges, is one of the higher-performing schools in the county and the Dunwoody and Tucker clusters have already shown much interest in breaking off from Dekalb and forming their own independent school districts.

Individual high school clusters or groups of high school clusters metrowide should be allowed to break off from a dysfunctional larger district and form and operate their own smaller independent school districts as desired. Especially if a cluster is attached to an extremely-dysfunctional large countywide or citywide school district that is at risk of losing accreditation due to continued extreme schoolboard and administrative dysfunction (Dekalb, Clayton and Atlanta Public Schools immediately come to mind).

bgsmallz January 17, 2013 at 2:59 pm

I love Nancy Jester. She represents my area and I would vote for her again in a heartbeat. Having said that, they need to remove the whole board. I just don’t see the efficiency in keeping members piece-meal. Nancy could probably do a lot of good influencing and organizing from the outside, anyway.

What’s interesting, and this is just looking at the GA Const and not case law, is that there is probably a solution that could be a solution for North DeKalb without independent school districts…consolidation.

Would Gwinnett, Fulton or Cobb like the idea of having Dunwoody and Brookhaven’s tax base in their school system? Nothing in the Constitution prevents consolidation into an area district not defined by county lines. Also, there is nothing preventing consolidation of only a portion of the school district. You don’t need Milton Co to make a new school district…but if you had Milton Co, Dunwoody and Brookhaven could be a part of that district with out being a part of the county. What if because of budget woes, Cobb, North Fulton and North DeKalb all came together to create the “North Atlanta Area School district”? Obviously, the perils of a school district that large is troublesome…but it doesn’t sound terrible.

The only question I have is (1) is there case law that says this isn’t what the Constitution says and (2) would all members of the affected school district get to vote or only those in the consolidated part of the district.

Ghost of William F Buckley January 17, 2013 at 4:20 pm

Interesting and an ‘out-of’the-box’ idea. Not sure how that all pans out in terms of likeability, much less case law. I am not so sure if my Cobb, N. Fulton neighbors would like to have their kids hang with DeKalb kids, and being from North Atlanta hardly sounds like a benefit.

“Bunch of nose-picking thugs, the lot of ‘em,” I could imagine hearing…. How does this idea resolve the “too-big-to-fail?”

You state. ‘Obviously, the perils of a school district that large is troublesome…but it doesn’t sound terrible.’ I maintain making a broken system bigger may not resolve anything.

Sack SACs.

Has anyone tuned into the broadcast? I could not get anything at 2:20PM, was it over. The BOE site did not make it easy to find the video…

bgsmallz January 17, 2013 at 10:52 pm

Not saying it is a perfect solution, but certainly better than status quo and possibly easier than const. amendment.

SACS is a relative non-issue to me. To think that so many districts can stay in their good graces…I get the idea of SACS being the ‘educratic’ boogey man, but the threshold for keeping them at bay is so relatively low….they have so little influence on policy. The influence is in accountability to the policy you create. This is DeKalb’s issue…

Anyway, I think the folks in the Dunwoody panhandle would love to get into the Dunwoody cluster. Plus, Dunwoody’s tax digest is huge. Huge. Any school board would be liking its chops over their portion of Perimeter. It’s not that far fetched unless the entire county (DeKalb) would get to vote on it.

Dave Bearse January 17, 2013 at 10:05 pm

I do think the principle innocent until proven guilty very important, despite many of my PP comments. Supt Crawford Lewis used his get out of jail free card when he purchased a surplus DeKalb Schools sedan for at least $5,000 less than its market value. (Lewis eliminated all doubt he was crooked after the AJC revealed he used a Dekalbs Schools credit card to purchase three tanks of gas on at least two different Saturdays, and purchased two tanks of gas a dozen times or more. A Ph’D evidently isn’t all it’s cracked up to be when someone with the intelligence of your average Nightline viewer can figure out the Lewis was filling up the wife’s, the kid’s, the lawn guy’s and who knows who elses car on the taxpyaer dime..)

Current DeKalb Superintendent Atkinson may well have just used her get out of free card. That she defended the plagiarist didn’t sit well, but the card came into play after I read that the guy was a Charlotte crony.

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